The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) recently announced that its inspections across UK farms during Winter 2023 and Spring 2024 would include a new focus on falls from height.

Farming businesses will often use the winter months to carry out necessary planned building maintenance as well as repair buildings damaged by storms. We have seen six storms sweep across the UK since September 2023 and there will undoubtedly be more to follow. Both planned and reactive maintenance and repairs are likely to include roof repair works. This may necessarily involve working at height.

The dangers of working at height may seem obvious to most, yet falls from height remain one of the most common causes of death in agriculture, with on average eight people losing their life each year, with many more seriously injured. It is not surprising then that the HSE have chosen to focus on work at height as part of their inspection regime over the coming months. This is not the first time that the HSE has launched such a campaign in this sector but sadly, with the number of fatal injures refusing to decrease, it is a campaign that requires repeating.

Regardless of whether you are carrying out major repair works planned for some time, or simply looking to replace a damaged skylight, your duties under the Work at Height Regulations 2005 to ensure work at height is properly planned and carried out safely remains the same. Compliance with the law will assist in reducing the risk of accidents occurring, help to bring down the accident rate in this sector and avoid enforcement action being taken against your business.

So what should you do to comply with your duties?

When planning any building maintenance or roof repair work that may involve work at height you should stop and ask yourself:

  1. Whether working at height can be avoided. Can you do the required repairs from ground level using appropriate equipment, thus eliminating the risk of falling from height?
  2. Where the task needs to be carried out at height, whether you should be doing the work yourself. Whilst it can be tempting to attempt to carry out work at height yourself, you should engage a competent contractor with the relevant knowledge, training, experience and equipment to carry out work at height safely.
  3. Where work at height cannot be avoided and the work cannot be carried out by a competent contractor, make sure the work is properly planned and carried out by suitably trained people with the correct equipment for the task at hand. Ensure that those working at height are aware of any fragile roof surfaces, particularly if there are no clear warning signs in place.

It might be tempting to use the wrong equipment to carry out repairs at height, especially if the repair work is seen as a 'quick fix' repair. Whilst using the forks or bucket of a telehandler might seem a quick route to access a roof it is unsafe to do so and could result in enforcement action being taken against you, even if there is no fall from height.

Very often falls from height are due to a lack of proper planning, unsafe means of access and methods of work being adopted. Such accidents will be investigated by HSE and could result in prosecution.

By way of example, on 6 December 2023 a company, Mitie Tilley roofing Limited, was sentenced to a fine of £881,000 for two separate incidents involving falls from height, arising due to poor planning and a lack of suitable fall protection equipment. Thankfully neither incident involved a fatality, however if they had, one could expect the fines to have been even higher.

A sobering reminder that short cuts to getting a job done could lead to an avoidable accident, serious or fatal injuries to your workforce and a significant financial penalty.

If you find yourself subject to an adverse HSE inspection or need advice generally on complying with your health and safety duties in relation to work at height, contact Clare Bone and her team at Brodies.


Clare Bone

Partner & Solicitor Advocate

Victoria Anderson

Senior Associate